We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday November 17th around noon and what a mistake that was! There were 5 ships leaving Port Everglades that day and the airport was a madhouse! Note to self -- check out the port schedule before making air reservations next time!
Pre-cruise we stayed at the Comfort Suites in Miami near the MIA airport. Nice hotel, great rooms, not a very nice neighborhood. There was a Subway within walking distance where we picked up dinner, but other than that you needed a rental car or had to take a cab to get somewhere. Room was ready at check in and we signed up for the shuttle to take us to the port at 10:45 the next morning.
Shuttle service from the hotel was a bit confusing with the number of passengers traveling on the different ships that were leaving Port of Miami that day. We were on our way by 11:00 and since we were on the Pearl we were the first group dropped off.
Getting through security -- WHAT A MESS. I have to say I HATE, and I mean I HATE the Port of Miami Security personnel. What a disaster...we had a small carryon suitcase full of water and soda. He INSISTED on examining EACH AND EVERY bottle and attempting to take the caps off of them (note, they were ALL unopened!). We each had a bottle of open water in our purses which he made us throw out and a bag of snacks that I had for my teenagers (pretzels, etc...) which were already opened he made us discard. This is my fourth cruise this year alone and I'd NEVER had to discard anything prior (previously sailed out of NYC, LA, Seattle). He literally made us all feel like criminals!!! Note, this is a PORT OF MIAMI employee, not an employee of NCL!!!
We went directly to the VIP check in room and once checked in we were briskly escorted onto the ship where we were met by our Concierge Monica. She gave us her card and let us know to contact her directly should we need anything. Let me just say Monica is a DREAM. Courteous and professional at all times and she was certainly one of the many highlights of our trip! Note, there were a total of 6 of us in three cabins.
We were then guided to Cagney's where we dined on a fabulous lunch! Everything that everyone ordered was perfect...need I say more? While eating lunch they announced that the cabins were ready so we headed there to unpack our carryon items as soon as we were done.
One of the suite perks in dinning in Cagney's for both breakfast and lunch every day. While we did choose to have breakfast there every morning, for lunch we chose the Garden Cafe. We really enjoyed the buffet there; always an excellent selection and good quality. In fact, I personally felt that the buffet on the Pearl was much better quality than any of the buffets I'd eaten at on my last two Princess cruises this year!
Our cabins were in perfect order and our Cabin Steward Rolando was there to greet us. He was such a great guy! I was traveling with my two teens who really don't know the meaning of "picking up after yourself" so I was so thankful that he was so incredibly nice all week long. I'm sure he cringed every time he entered our cabin!
Important to note, I had booked the dinning package (3 restaurants for $52 per person) offered for the three restaurants (LeBistro, Cagney's & La Cucina) pre-cruise for all six of us. When we boarded the Pearl I learned that they had a special for dinning all 7 nights of the trip in the various specialty dinning rooms for $99 per person. I JUMPED on that one right away. Throughout the week we dinned in Le Bistro (two times as it's my favorite), Cagney's, La Cucina, Moderno, Lotus Garden, and Teppanyaki. All of the specialty restaurants were included in the package (with the exception of the sushi) so you could choose whichever you wanted. There is no limit to the number of times per night that you could dine in a specialty restaurant with the package.
We left the port of Miami pretty much on time and enjoyed the sail away party on deck. We had an incredibly great Cruise Director's staff lead by Julie that we enjoyed throughout the cruise.
Sunday night we dinned in LeBistro and as always we were not disappointed. Our waitress was Jessica and she was INCREDIBLE. My sister was feeling sea sick and Jessica went above and beyond to hunt down some green apples for her. They had not completely finished unpacking the produce yet and for whatever reason green apples (and limes for that matter) were hard to find. Jessica was able to find someone to locate them and combined with the ginger ale my sister was feeling better in no time. In Le Bistro some of the items we ordered included the cornets, escargot, filet, Coq au Vin, and lamb chops. All of the meats were done to the perfect temperatures and everyone loved everything!
We attended the show Sunday night which gives you a flavor of what's to come for the week. Hosted by Julie the Cruise Director we enjoyed the singers and dancers and really looked forward to seeing the show "Oh What a Night" - a tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons later on in the week.
Monday we arrived early in Great Stirrup Cay. My father, sister, and girls left early and had no problems getting on the tender over. My mother and I waited until after 10 and it was a mad house. They were leaving off of deck 4 and the line extended past deck 6. After about 20 minutes of waiting we both decided we'd be just as happy staying on the ship that day and did so. The rest of the family enjoyed the island for the day and we enjoyed the ship. Great day all around.
Monday night we dinned in Moderno and I have to say I am just not a big fan. I lived in Brazil previously so I'm pretty familiar with what it's supposed to be like and Moderno just doesn't hit the mark. Know that it's not terrible, but not up to my personal liking. Please know that this is also the feedback I provided to the ship's Restaurant Manger Danny Singh. Danny was really great when I spoke with him, very open to the feedback I provided. The next day he sent a nice note and some chocolates to our cabin.
Tuesday was our day at sea and we enjoyed a great Cruise Critic Meet & Greet held in the Star Bar. All of the officers were there and Prem, the Hotel Director, gladly answered all of our questions. Some things we asked were: Is the specialty dinning package going to be rolled out to all of the ships? YES!!!! We also asked about tipping cash to employees and were told that if you tip an employee directly they are not required to share it with anyone else. The exception to this is the casino staff as they do pool their tips.
I was greatly impressed with Prem and exchanged several nice emails with him during our voyage. I found him quite professional and he has a great personality. It is obvious by the level of service we received throughout the ship from all employees that Prem has some exceptional leadership skills! My parents who normally sail ONLY Princess were blown away by the level of service they received on this voyage. Job well done Prem!
Tuesday night we attended the VIP cocktail party held in Bliss and were able to chat with several of the officers and staff including the Captain who by the way is a total riot!!! Not many captains out there with much of a personality but this one was a hoot and a half!!!
After the party we dined in La Cucina. Some of the items ordered included pizza, risotto, veal, chicken parmesan, and the rib eye steak. Again, everything was done to perfection. The menu in La Cucina has recently been altered and they don't seem to be doing the pizza the same way they used to. All in all everything was excellent, no complaints!
Wednesday we arrived in Jamaica. My dad, sister and kids had booked the zip line tour through Yardie Tours while my mother and I opted to walk around the port and do a bit of shopping. According to my dad, the tour with Yardie was one of the best he'd EVER had. They all loved the zip line and had a great time. My father stated he didn't think he'd ever been on a tour that was as great as that one!
My Mom and I had no trouble at all in port but were a bit miffed by the constant barrage from the different cab drivers as we were making our way to the different shopping areas. Again, nothing that destroyed the day and they were all harmless. Just know that's what you will be up against if you choose to do as we did!
Wednesday night we dined in Lotus Garden. Items we tried included the scallops, sesame chicken, various noodle dishes, sweet and sour pork, and the Szechuan beef. Everything was excellent and as with all of the restaurants the service was fabulous.
On Monday they advertised in the Freestyle Daily that if you wanted a chance to dine with one of the ship's officers to put your name in at the restaurant reservation desk which we did. My parent's names were chosen and on Wednesday they dinned in Indigo (one of the main dinning rooms) with the ship's doctor and his wife. They both had a lovely evening and said the meal was exceptionally good.
Thursday we were in Grand Cayman and my kids, sister, and I booked a stingray/snorkel/beach day through Native Ways. The tour was excellent and we loved Andrew and JC! Top notch operation and I would HIGHLY recommend using them. The water was very choppy that day but we had a GREAT time with the rays! What wonderfully gentle creatures they truly are. If you haven't had a chance, do it! They are wonderful! With the currents being pretty strong the snorkeling left us all exhausted after only about 30 minutes. We then headed to rum point beach for lunch and about 1.5 hours of relaxation. It was an awesome day!
Thursday night was Thanksgiving and we dinned in Cagney's. It's important to mention that they offered both turkey and pumpkin pie in all of the restaurants that day. Again, another excellent meal. We all had the filet with the exception of my dad who once again ordered the lamb chops. As always, the meat was done to perfection and the service was phenomenal!
Thursday night was also the White Hot Party. Due to high winds outside they moved it into Spinnaker and as usual it was a great time. Again, kudos to Julie and her entire Cruise Staff. They were all exceptional!
Friday morning around 11 we arrived in Cozumel and the NCL Star was docked right next door. My kids, parents, and sister all headed out on the "Amazing Race Cozumel." I had read many reviews here about the excursion and everything sounded great so they were all excited. Unfortunately, they didn't have the greatest time and only rated it as "okay." My Mom's opinion was that if it were only two or three in your group it would probably be great but with 5 of them it was difficult to coordinate.
When we all arrived back at the ship the Star and Pearl were throwing a HUGE welcome back party on the dock. Loud music, dancing, people on stilts. It was a riot! My kids had a great time out there with the crews from both ships...NCL certainly knows how to throw a party!
Friday night brought us back to LeBistro and to Jessica as our waitress (just love that lady). Monica our Concierge dinned with us that evening and we greatly enjoyed her company. She is simply a lovely lady! Again, everything we ordered was fabulous and we especially enjoyed the French Onion soup!
Saturday was our last day onboard and as usual, the Freestyle Daily was teaming with things to do throughout the day. Bingo, trivia, shopping, drink specials...you name it, you could find it that day. We all did our own thing but everyone had a great time.
Saturday night we ate in Teppanyaki and had both great service and great food. We celebrated my daughter's birthday that night and she was thrilled with the cake and having everyone sing happy birthday to her. It really was a great night!
We disembarked Sunday morning choosing to carry our luggage off ourselves at 7:15. We waited about 30 seconds for the elevator at the port to take us downstairs and we breezed through customs. It was one of the easiest disembarkations ever!
We had several "Heroes" throughout our week on the Pear. Just to name a few:
Prem -- Hotel Director
Monica -- Concierge
Danny -- Restaurant Manager
Jessica -- Waitress in LeBistro
Mip -- Waiter in Bar City
Rolando -- Cabin Steward
Joy -- Waitress in Cagney's
Julie and the entire Cruise Director's Staff
On a personal note; I truly believe that when you cruise, if you have something that goes wrong, let the staff know about it right away so they can fix it. If you have a complaint, at least give them the opportunity to address the issue before you decide to publicize it on the World Wide Web. If you're going to put it out there on Cruise Critic, at least give the staff on the ship the opportunity to address whatever the issue is. And yes, I met some people on this sailing that had various issues. When the let Prem and his staff know what they were, in each and every case they were taken care of to their satisfaction!
I can't say enough fabulous things about our experience on the Pearl or about how exceptional the entire staff was. Our week on the Pearl was certainly the vacation of a lifetime!!!